Did the car replace the horse? In one way, yes. But last time I checked, we still have horses. We just don't use them the same way.

I think that's part of the issue with electric cars. We're looking at them as a replacement vehicle, when in reality they're not for everyone. But after a week with the Nissan Leaf, I'm expanding my view of the electric platform.

Time to be honest: I was nervous when the car arrived. I'd never driven a completely electric car, always had the small motor to fall back on if the battery ran out. For the first five miles driving home I held my breath. Don't ask me why, but I did. Take a deep breath and the charge goes down?

Funny thing happened after that, I became incredibly comfortable with the Leaf, and started enjoying the possibilities of a true EV. One of the key components to electric car technology is regenerative energy when you brake or slow down - the Nissan Leaf gives you a couple of ways to increase the amount of energy captured, including a "B" mode that definitely grabs extra energy, and an ECO setting that doesn't feel as aggressive but still recoups some of the charge.

I live in Waterford and drive to our studios in Oak Park every morning (about 30 miles each way). The Nissan Leaf has an indicated range of 84 miles (full charge). But with regenerative energy (primarily using Telegraph road) I used less than 30% of the range in a day -- when I took I-75 home, about ½ the charge.

So is the Leaf built for road trips? no. But a daily driver to and from work (with a couple of stops)? absolutely. Couple of points when it comes to an EV like the Nissan Leaf:

  • The investment in a 220 volt charging station is a must. Dramatically lowers charging time (full charge in under 4 hours) and eliminates one of the key complaints.
  • Embrace the technology. Sounds silly, but it’s important. This is a different way of driving a car, not radically so, but you do need to think about things differently. It’s okay to ride the brakes (more regen energy), and remember that steady and smooth acceleration is key to keeping the range up on the car (this Leaf has over 180 ft pd of torque).

Base models start around $28,000 -- but you’ll see multiple rebates/discounts including up to $7,500 off on your taxes and DTE has an energy rate reduction program for charging EV’s in off hours.

In the midst of all the tech talk, I forgot to mention something very important. It’s a nice ride for a small car. Plenty of head room, nice sight lines, handles well on the rough Michigan roads and the Bose low energy sound system is amazing (would like to see HD radio).

With any EV’s the discussion will always be centered around range. And it should be. But technology is moving forward at an amazing pace, and the automakers are pushing each other forward. That’s good for us as consumers. That’s GREAT for us as consumers.

Bottom line: $40 of gas got me less than ½ a tank in my truck. That’s starting to leave a mark on my bank account. So why wouldn’t you check out a Leaf? Set aside what you think you know about EV’s and go drive one, do the research, check out the forums. It’s not only a viable option, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

  • review by Jim O'Brien (@JimInTheD)